Leslie Howard brought his Hamlet to Boston for its world premier last night, and revealed to the sparse audience a unique conception of the Prince of Denmark.
The Howard Hamlet is a delicate, sensitive youth, but with scracely a touch of the meloncholy usually associated with the Dane, Sober, self-contained, and introspective--Howard is all these, but with it all the thread of humor Shakespeare most certainly intended his Prince to have runs throughout this entire production. At times the wit is biting, at times it is gentle, and again there is a touch of rich whole-hearted merry-making. It seems almost as though Mr. Howard had determined to avoid the pit-fall John Gielgud's humorless characterization of Hamlet has apparently fallen into in New York.
It is of course completely superfiuous to mention that Mr. Howard reads his lines with extreme beauty, sympathy, and understanding. Never once is there a suggestion of ranting; indeed at times, in the most intense scenes, there appears almost an underemphasis, but this is more due to Mr. Howard's determination to create an original Hamlet than from any lack of power. He conveys the effect of almost an unwillingness to believe the accusations of the Ghost at first, and later skillfully avoids the perennial charge of procrastination by the calm, detached manner in which he builds the case against Claudius.
On the whole, however, the skill of his characterization is minimized to a great extent by the adaptation of the play. Apparently unwilling to sacrifice much of the text usually cut, Mr. Schuyler Watts, who prepared the script, has run several of the scenes together, so that there are only three acts instead of Mr. Shakespeare's five. Thus the emotional stress is carried from scene to scene with scarcely a break; and the rise and fall in pitch that is so noticeable in reading is almost completely lost. Still with all this running together of the scenes much of the original text is deleted, and the action of the scenes so removed is explained in various addenda tacked onto speeches in succeeding scenes. Sometimes this is successful; more often it causes confusion. Undoubtedly various changes will be made before the play reaches New York.
The supporting cast is adequate though not entirely distinguished. John Barclay as the Ghost is excellent in every respect, Aubrey Mather extracts a little too much comedy from the role of Polonius, and the King is a trifle too much the conventional villian. The First grave digger is especially worthy of mention, as indeed the entire graveyard scene is. The play portrayed by the actors before the Court, on the other hand is almost pure Watts, with very little Shakespeare included.
Taken all in all, Mr. Howard's Hamlet is a production fit to rank with best, and undoubtedly one that will attract more than ordinary attention.